Dos Palos coach's legacy transcends football

September 10, 2010 

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA / THE FRESNO BEE - Coach Mike Sparks, center, mingles with team members during practice at Dos Palos High School. He plans to retire at season's end.

DOS PALOS -- The walls in Mike Sparks' counseling office at Dos Palos High reflect what this school, community and Valley will lose in three months as a football coach -- an enormously successful and popular professional -- steps down.

This is proven partly by his 22-year record (199-66-2) and perhaps more by the pictures on those four walls -- hundreds of them.

Team pictures. Individuals. Seniors. Proms. Families. Babies. Friends. Coaches.

And pictures don't lie, right?

"No," school secretary Susan Galindo says. "He's like a father to the kids. When they need this, here's there; when they need that, he's there. These kids are really going to miss him."

She paused, then added, "We're all going to miss him."

Actually, Sparks, 56, will remain at the school indefinitely as a counselor: "Economics has something to do with it."

Meanwhile, he has a choice: Move into a bigger office or begin pinning one picture atop the other for there literally is no more room for photos, plaques, hats and gifts, such as the blue and gold beaded keychain from Galindo's graduated daughter, Veronica.

Regarding needed space for Sparks' personal wallpaper, Mom jokingly suggests: "Use the ceiling."

In football, he has, just like his predecessors.

Reaching great heights is the standard in Dos Palos football.

Sparks (199-66-2), who will gun for win No. 200 tonight in a season opener at Kingsburg, followed Tom Scheidt (101-36-2), Bill Sparks (89-17-1), Bill Hume (82-12-4), Ike Frankian (68-28-8) and Checkers Millett (43-15-4).

Including four other coaches in a program launched in 1923, the Broncos are 592-208-23 (.733) in 87 seasons. In all-time state rankings, they are No. 1 in league titles (46), No. 4 in section championships (15) and No. 5 in wins.

That Mike Sparks would join the coaching legacy was a given soon after he went 30-2-1 as a three-year starting quarterback and graduated from the school in 1972: "That's what I wanted to do. I went off to college to come back here and be a coach. It's all I knew."

But here's what he didn't.

The late Bill Sparks, his father, left Dos Palos in 1976 to take over the football program at Madera.

That, by no coincidence, Mike Sparks suspects, was the same year he graduated from Chico State.

"He never told me," the son says, "but I've kind of thought all along he left to open a position here for me. I didn't know he was looking for another job. I mean, why leave here?"

Bill Sparks also left his son a house -- the same one in which the kid was raised at 1018 Dos Palos Ave., two minutes north of the school.

And it was there that Mike and Renee Sparks, sweethearts since 14, returned to play Broncos blues and raise sons named after Dos Palos athletes -- Dean (Collins) and Nick (Ballinger).

Since, Mike Sparks, who assisted Scheidt for 12 years before taking over in 1988, hasn't so much as given a thought to coaching elsewhere than the school with 750 students: "I'm really happy with what happened. And I'm happy about this year because it's a really good group to go out with."

He'll walk as a man of detail who kept things simply successful.

"We've all learned in the coaching ranks from Dos Palos," says coach John Henson of rival Chowchilla, "don't do a whole lot, but what you do, do it very well."

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